The Penguins gathered at Mellon Arena on Friday for the last time this season.
The players packed up their gear, went through exit physicals and interviews, met with the media and said their respective good byes for the summer.
It was certainly a day of reflection on everything the team accomplished: surpassing 100 points in the standings again, winning the Eastern Conference championship and coming within two wins of a Stanley Cup championship.
“You can always look back and say, ‘What if?’ Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done, but we did everything we could to try to get it done. It just didn’t work out,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s tough just because we were so close. That’s the toughest part about it. It’s a game of bounces and breaks and it just didn’t go our way.
“But, it was a huge year for us. We gained a lot of experience pretty quickly. We said we wanted to bounce back from last year and have a better season and we did that. We came so close, but I think we all realize how tough that was and we don’t want to feel it again. Hopefully, we can have another chance and have a different outcome.”
Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, an alternate captain, echoed those statements.
“It’s tough to lose in the Final. You feel like you were so close and you lost. At the same time, we have to stay positive because we accomplished so much during the season,” he said. “If you look at us, we’re a young team and we went to the Final and took a huge step forward. We have to make sure we continue to do the same things and move forward again.”
The Penguins may move forward next season with a different look as the team boasts many players available for free agency – Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik, Ty Conklin, Gary Roberts, Adam Hall, Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque, to name a few.
“You don’t want to think about it too much. It’ll be tough to keep everyone together, but I think we’re all optimistic that [general manager] Ray [Shero] will do the best job he can at keeping everyone together,” Crosby said. “You look at the season we had and we had a lot of success, so I am sure he doesn’t want to change too much if he can.
“You look at how far we went and the group of guys we had, I am sure everyone wants to come back. It’s tough with the salary cap. A lot of free agents have had great seasons, too,” he said. “It’s going to be competitive and there will be other teams that want them and there are going to be good offers for them. If it makes sense to go somewhere else, then they deserve it – they’ve had great years. That’s all part of it.”
Perhaps the biggest name on that list is Hossa, who finished second in playoff scoring with 26 points, behind Crosby and Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, who both had 27. Crosby and Hossa continued to improve their chemistry the more they were on the ice.
“How could I not want to play with him? He’s a great player. I hope it works out that he’s able to stay. He’s a great person and he works hard. I enjoy playing with him,” Crosby said. “As we played together more and got used to each other, I think good things started to happen and it was a lot of fun out there. It’d be a lot of fun to continue to play with someone like that. I hope it works out.”
Next season, the Penguins hope to apply the experience they gained this year, especially in the Stanley Cup Final.
“When the Final started, there is a lot of hype and a lot of media,” Gonchar said. “Sometimes, when you’re a young kid, you’re watching those games while you’re growing up and then all of a sudden you’re playing in those games. It’s a big difference. Maybe in the first couple games, it was a tough experience for the guys because it’s completely new even though they went through three rounds, it’s a completely different level of game and maybe it took them a while to adjust.
“But, if we can keep our core together, we’re going to have a good chance,” he continued. “We have a good group of guys, first of all. Everybody likes each other and gets along with each other and we have some fun, which is important when you have a long season. Plus, we have great fan support. When we’re playing at home, it’s one of the best feelings you can have as a hockey player. Those two things make guys want to come back.”